ANDERSON – Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Anderson Fraternal Order of Police is bringing smiles to the faces of 100 local children for Christmas.

The annual Cops & Kids campaign received more than $31,000 in donations this year, exceeding the goal of $25,000.

Unlike in previous years when the families recommended by the Indiana Department of Child Services would gather at the Meijer store to shop with members of the local police union, this year the members of local law enforcement agencies did the shopping by themselves.

The adjustment was made to minimize chances of the spread of the coronavirus.

Santa Claus was on hand to greet those arriving at the store Tuesday.

Working from lists of gift wishes, the officers shopped for about $150 worth of presents for each child. The children’s families then picked the gifts up at the Meijer garden center entrance.

Harley Walker, a first-year participant in the program, picked up Christmas presents for two children.

“It surprised me,” she said of the program. “I haven’t been able to work, so this really helps me out a lot.”

Jonathan Pierce said he has two children and a young girl who was placed with the family through the Department of Child Services.

“It gives us a little bit of leeway,” he said of the Cops & Kids campaign. “Shopping for three kids and parents it’s kind of tough right now.”

Kenny Davenport, who coordinated the Cops & Kids effort, said the amount raised this year was more than expected.

“With the year we’re having, we didn’t know with people out of work and businesses struggling,” he said. “We were very blessed.

“We can’t tell you how important Meijer is,” Davenport added. “They step up and donate on top of everything they do for us. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Mike Anderson, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the amount raised exceeded their goal.

“We’re pretty excited because we can give the kids a lot more, help out some families after today,” he said.

Small contributors combine with Meijer, Harrah’s Hoosier Park and Precision Strip Inc to fund Cops & Kids.

“We’re here today to give back,” Anderson said. “This is an all-volunteer effort, and 100 percent of what we raise goes back to the kids.

Heather McClain has been participating in the program for 24 years as a member of the Anderson Police Department.

“We were worried that it wouldn’t happen this year,” she said. “It was amazing. People came out and supported each other and us at a time when a lot of people aren’t supporting law enforcement. The silent majority spoke loudest.”

McClain said she missed not shopping with the children this year.

Kira Smith, an emergency dispatcher with Madison County, was participating for the first year.

“This is my first year at dispatch for Christmas, but my plan is to do it every year,” she said. “This means a lot to the community right now, with the corona situation. It gives a lot of relief to families that probably wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise.”

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Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.